My daughter Sam is 12, but I’ve only known her for a year.

When we meet new people, my husband and I get a kick out of sharing that we’ve been married for 10 years. But we have daughters who are 12 and 5 years old.

We watch people try to hide their puzzled or judgmental faces. We let it go for a while before sharing that our 12-year-old was recently adopted through foster care.

Our family is proof that families are made in all sorts of ways, not just by blood. No one’s story is as straightforward as it may seem.

An interest in foster care

In college, I became interested in foster care. So interested that I chose to do a research project on the subject. My husband, John (who was I was dating at the time)r was interested too. We thought maybe one day down the road we’d become foster parents.

Years passed. We got married and the idea of fostering fell off of our radar. Until we began attending a church with an active foster care ministry.

At the time we had one biological daughter, Olivia, who was four. Through our church, we learned about the significant need for foster parents and became friends with foster and adoptive families. We decided to attend an information session to learn more.

Whatever was best

We were surprised to hear there’s a waiting list of foster parents who want a young child placement. But the opposite is true for kids over the age of 5. Knowing that, we decided to open our home to a girl between the ages of 5 and 10.

Some people foster with the end goal of adopting and growing their forever family. We were open to that if the birth parents of a child in our care lost their rights. But it wasn’t our exclusive goal.

We simply wanted to help. We wanted to make ourselves available to whoever we could serve in whatever capacity we could.

One step led to another and another, and the state opened our home in the spring of 2018.

Getting the call

One morning last spring, I got a call from our agency telling me about a 10-year-old girl named Samantha. She was finishing up the 4th grade and living with a foster family a few miles from us who was not an adoptive resource. That simply means they foster, but not to adopt.

Her 11th birthday was a few weeks away. It looked like her case was heading toward adoption, and her caseworkers wanted to transition her to a home where she could be adopted should her birth family lose their rights.

While on the phone, I scribbled notes frantically and asked a million questions. Then I texted John. We said yes.

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She liked us!

Sam’s caseworkers wanted her to finish her school year without distraction. They didn’t even tell her about us until early summer.

We talked with her foster parents and agreed to meet for a family play date at a local park in early June.

I will never forget the moment I saw Sam for the first time. She wheeled up the sidewalk on her green scooter wearing her pink helmet, a sky blue shirt, jeans, and white sneakers. She had a wide smile and a look of curiosity in her big brown eyes.

That evening, she and Olivia played at the park while we began the learning about her.

Thankfully, she liked us! She was ready and waiting for a mom and dad and was so excited to become part of a family. We planned several transition visits throughout the month so she could stay overnight at our house on the weekends.

Becoming family

She moved in with us permanently in July of 2018. The past year has been about getting to know Sam and her getting to know us.

It’s also been about bonding and introducing her to our family culture and rhythms. Then adjusting them to adopt some of hers.

She and Olivia were both only children, so they have had to learn how to be siblings and share. Some days that happens more effectively than others!

Advocating for her needs

This year has also been about figuring out her needs and where she could benefit from support. We’ve learned what resources are available to our family and advocated for Sam.

The needs of an older foster child are quite different than a younger one. Younger children need their basic food, clothing, shelter, and affection needs met. But older children have additional emotional, spiritual, and cognitive needs.

For example, Sam has changed schools five times in her short academic career. So last year she needed tutoring and extra support at school. Also, in most cases, older foster children have lived for years witnessing their authority figures maintain unhealthy habits, relationships, and lifestyles.

She needed help changing some bad habits, and then she needed to learn life skills like manners, cleanliness, and organization. Even though she was 11 by the time she moved in with us, she had never been taught or shown some of the things we’d already taught our 4-year-old.

She’s just a kid growing up

This year has also been about letting her just be a kid—swim in the neighborhood pool, paint her nails, play soccer—and not have to carry the adult-sized burdens that fell on her shoulders early in life.

And as for my husband and I, we became parents to a preteen practically overnight. I’ve had conversations about puberty, technology, boys, and all kinds of subjects I thought were years away!

I’ve been so thankful for my village of neighbors, church, and family who helped us navigate everything from the school system’s parent portal to discipline.

It’s been a joy to witness Sam experience so many firsts—boat rides, concerts, ziplining, bowling, and many other special moments.

And we’ve been amazed at how much she has grown in just a year. Not only physically—she shot up four inches—but also emotionally and at school. She has a wonderful group of friends and is even taking two gifted classes this year.

She is naturally optimistic and the most resilient person I’d ever encountered. But it’s amazing what a sense of security and some structure can do for a person.

Has the past year been all sunshine and flowers? Nope. Raising a preteen is hard. Raising a preteen who experienced trauma and neglect for a decade is even harder.

But has it been good? Better than you can imagine. I am so thankful God is using me to play a role in changing Sam’s future. I truly believe that for all four of us, the best is yet to come.

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